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on 1 May 2011
Since the 1980s David Anthony has been an expert on Balkan and Steppe Archaeology, as well as working on the origins of horse riding. This is his Magnum Opus. I doubt that you'll see its like (certainly from him) again.

And what a work! By covering almost every angle he manages to get, as far as anyone can, to the root of Indo-European origins with his discussion of horses, wheels, wool and chariots. The first half of the book is a gripping roller coaster, fascinating to anybody who has an interest in Proto-Indo-European, its age(s) and place(s). The argument presented essentially backs up the "Ukrainian steppe pastoralist" origin story of Marija Gimbutas, while doing its best to demolish (quite effectively) the current alternative , Colin Renfrew's "Turkish original farmer" origin story.

However, after an interesting chapter on the origins of horse-riding, the second half of the book is a painstaking blow by blow account of the archaeology of steppe cultures between 5000 and 2000 BC. Even for an obsessive like me I struggle not to fall asleep while reading it. Ultimately it is aimed at academics who argue against the steppe origins of Indo-Iranian and Tocharian. Unless you're up with those arguments it will bore you to tears. To be fair Prof Anthony never professed to making a block-buster, just to making his case. All the same, the book's title should really have been subtitled "how bronze age riders from the Eurasian steppe shaped Western and Central Asia".

However, my major issue with the book is that Prof Anthony (like Jim Mallory) does not seem to be able to see the world from outside his own argument. He believes, almost religiously, that Andronovo culture = Indo-Iranian language. Sure it's a reasonable case but it's a long long way from being proved. This leaves him constantly flitting between using culture or using language to describe the same thing, even within one sentence - pretty much an archaeological (and scientific) no-no. I just wish that he could have separated the two. This would have better helped him both to make his case and to see the flaws in it. More than anything else this will cause the book to date as new evidence becomes available.
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on 6 May 2015
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on 17 February 2015
it's a very interesting informative book
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on 11 January 2010
I bought this book because I had long been interested in the spread of Indo-European languages, and wanted to know more about the lifestyle in the Indo-European homeland of the Eurasian steppe, and confront it with other contemporary cultures in Europe and the Middle East. David Anthony does a good job at reviewing the archaeological evidence for the steppe culture, the North Caucasus, Central Asia, the Carpathians and East Balkans, but does not explain how people lived in other regions where IE languages spread, not even nearby Anatolia.

I would have liked to see a review of the archaeological sites of the Unetice, Tumulus and Urnfield cultures of Central Europe (the forerunners of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures), so as to determine how Proto-Celtic cultures related to the steppe cultures. Unfortunately there isn't a single mention of any of them, even though the author spends two whole chapters to discuss the Central Asian cultures of the same period (Andronovo, Sintashta, Bactria-Margiana). I don't suppose I am the only European reader more interested in the Italo-Celtic and Germanic branches of Indo-European civilization than in the Indo-Iranian one.

One of my main interest was to compare the anthropological features of steppe people with those of territories supposedly invaded by the Indo-Europeans. I chose this book because its author is a professor of anthropology (and not archaeology or linguistics). I was very disappointed as Pr. Anthony does not give any anthropometric measurement of the skeletons in the sites studied, apart from a brief and very basic distinction between wide-faced and low-skulled steppe people and the narrow-faced high-skulled people of Old Europe. Instead of comparing pottery styles, that are obviously not related to ethnicity and language as he explains many times in the first part of the book, I wish he could have compared body height and built, head shape, facial and cranial morphology, hair colour, and so on. He doesn't do it because he thinks that Indo-European languages spread almost exclusively through cultural contact and elite dominance, rather than through substantial migrations (this is stated in the last pages chapter 6 and in chapter 14). I am surprised that he would still hold such a position in 2007, when Y-DNA haplogroups had already clearly established a undeniable genetic connection (namely the dominance of haplogroups R1a and R1b) between all the Indo-European speakers from Western Europe to South Asia. Anthony does not mention genetic studies once, except to say in chapter 6 that the flow of Y chromosome was very low at English/Welsh border so that the two regions contrasted in gene pools. This is not even correct; there is a clinal east-west gradation from Wales to East Anglia, and Y-DNA is western England is about as much Celtic as Germanic.

I do not want to sound too negative. The book is interesting, especially for those with little prior knowledge about Indo-European studies. It can however be long-winded, both in the archaeological descriptions (use more data tables and less prose, please) and the tedious way in which he is defending things that hardly controversial any more, like the value of historical linguistics or the geographic location of the Indo-European homeland. I already agreed with all that before opening the book, so I found it was pointless and irrelevant for me.

The author makes some interesting analogies between Neolithic Europe and Native Americans and Africans. But he is obviously not a linguist and makes basic mistakes in his European examples. The French pronunciation of "cent" is not "sohnt" (p. 25). The final "t" is silent and it sounds more like "san" than "sohn" ("sohn" is how Saône, the river, is pronounced). It may sound trifle, but it is not when the example is used to compare the evolution of the pronunciation of the Indo-European word for "hundred". Similarly, but about history this time, Anthony writes (p. 106) : "After the fall of Rome German speakers moved into the northern cantons of Switzerland, and the Gallic kingdom of Burgundy occupied what had been Gallo-Roman western Switzerland. The frontier between them still separates ecologically similar regions within the modern state that differ in language (German-French), religion (Protestant-Catholic), architecture, the size and organization of landholdings, and the nature of the agricultural economy." This is wrong on many levels. Burgundy was a Germanic kingdom, not a Gallic one. Protestantism doesn't date from the 6th century, but the 16th century ! The Catholic-Protestant border is not between French and German speakers. French-speaking Swiss are Protestant, while their neighbours in France are Catholic. German-speaking Swiss are both Protestant and Catholic, depending on the canton, and most South Germans and Austrians are Catholic, like the French. The cultural differences are sometimes stronger between France and French-speaking Switzerland than between French- and German-speaking Swiss. The architecture looks Swiss everywhere in Switzerland. This is the kind of little details that I noted all along the first part of the book which tend to discredit a bit Anthony. Apart from that this book is still worth reading if you want to learn the basics about the Indo-European homeland and its archaeology. But keep in mind that you won't learn anything on the topic related to genetics or anthropology.
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on 11 November 2017
A magnificent piece of work. It strikes just the right balance between specialist and 'lay' styles. Admittedly, you have to be pretty interested in the subject and prepared to give it your full attention. I read it over a couple of years, in bed on a Saturday morning with toast and a cuppa. But it certainly kept me interested.
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on 2 June 2014
As a dabbler in this subject I found this book, with its interweaving of linguistics, anthropology and archaeology, an enthralling read, although its scope is so broad in time and space that it is necessarily challenging.

If I could suggest one addition to assist the lay reader it would be to include an alphabetical reference of the archaeological cultures with dates, characteristic traits and locations. Since most of the archaeological sites are in the Ukraine or in Russian speaking territories most of the names are Slavonic, and there are so many of them that I found it easy to lose track.
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on 27 February 2012
The debate about the origins of the Indo-European languages has always fascinated me, even though I am neither linguist nor archaeologist. Anthony's book includes a little linguistics and more archaeology, and in my opinion he makes a convincing case: conclusions follow logically from premisses. The book is very heavy on archaeology, so if the reader is not well versed in its terminology and methodology, the argument can be hard to follow at times.

Whether Anthony really settles the question of Indo-European origins I leave to professionals, but at least this book is going to start a lively debate. But I'm convinced he has at least taken us a great deal closer to the answer.
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on 20 September 2014
A great book, but often too repetitive in terms of evidence - the balance between academic and popular needs to be redressed.
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on 14 August 2013
I don't know enough about the subject matter to award 5 stars, but having said that, I found this a fascinating (if sometimes slogging) read. The book pulls together the parallel history of the Indoeuropean languages and of the horse as prey, draught beast and then mount in the Neolithic to Bronze Ages. I shall be referring back to this book for a while yet.
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on 24 May 2015
This is certainly an interesting book for those who are interested in the Proto Indo-European question. It is well-written and lucid. At the end however, I was left feeling that there was,more assertion than argument in it, and that the copious evidence on offer was largely irrelevant to the main issues at hand.

A range of scientific and linguistic evidence in recent years has pointed to Anatolia as the most obvious homeland of the Proto Indo-European language. Rather than engage directly with this evidence, Anthony tends to side step it, very subtly, at points in his analysis and then simply deluge the reader with detail on topics that do not directly bear on the controversy surrounding the Proto Indo-European homeland.

Certain key points in the argument look very weak indeed, and these all relate to the three key pillars of Anthony's argument. On the wheel, I read nothing in this book that can dispute the Mesopotamian origins of the wheel and carts, and therefore the domestication of the horse. It is disingenuous to use the Bronocice pot as an image of a cart without any mention of its pictoral poverty. Even if it were a wagon, which seems unlikely, why would it have been drawn in aerial view when every other ancient drawing, including the others on the same pot, are drawn from the side?

On language there is a completely inadequate engagement with the views of Gamkrelidze and Ivanov who, more than any other scholars, have shown the merit in the Anatolian hypothesis by meticulous analysis of Proto Indo-European words. Anthony has nothing significant to say about the presence of words for panther and lion in Proto Indo-European which effectively rule out a Steppes origin. Yet, he places very great emphasis on a claim that the existence of a word for the honey bee rule out a Southern homeland.

Certainly a well written book that is worth a read.
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